In the next Navhind Times ‘Talk from the Heart’ series, Sabreena Shah shares her story about living with Polycystic Ovarian Disorder (PCOD). From physical changes to emotional and mental upheaval, she tells it all. NT in conversation with the Body positivity campaigner
Maria Fernandes | NT
When Sabreena Shah first started to notice hair growing on her face, chest, arms and lower abdomen she was 17-years-old. From here commenced the constant cycle of bleaching, waxing, and threading. But more than 10 years on, the 27-year-old has literally ditched the temporary solutions and now embraces her body hair as part of herself. Here’s all you need to know about her.
So who is Sabreena Shah?
Originally from North India, Shah has been living in Goa for the last two years. With a Masters degree in Human Resources, she is working with a Philippines-based company that is constructing the international airport in Mopa. Living with Polycystic Ovarian Disorder (PCOD) from the time she was a teenager, today she is a campaigner for Body Positivity.
It all began, she says, with symptoms like irregular periods, stress, mood swings, and anxiety attacks. After several visits to doctors with regular blood tests and ultrasounds, she was diagnosed with PCOD. “I was worried because it sounded serious and something I had never heard of, none of my friends or cousins had it. In those days there was considerably less information about the condition and the doctors assured me that I would be fine. I believed the doctors and the medicines they prescribed,” she says.
Her parents too had a tough time coming to terms with the condition. “My parents had never heard of this condition, but they were hoping that the medication that I was taking would make it all go away,” she says. The medicines were not just many but would change every few months. “The doctors would constantly change my medication in the hope of curing my condition, but the symptoms would subside during the course of the treatment and once I stopped with them, it would start anew,” she says.
What is PCOD/PCOS?
PCOS/PCOD is commonly known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome wherein ‘Poly’ means ‘many’. It is a hormonal disorder common among women once they hit puberty. The ovaries may develop small collection of fluid (follicles) known as cysts and therefore ovaries fail to release eggs which results in a delayed or no menstrual cycle along with hormonal imbalance. Today one out of every five girls is suffering from PCOS and each case is different from the other. Some women may just have cystic ovaries and there may be no signs of hormonal imbalance while others suffer from both which is called PCOD (polycystic ovarian disease).
The symptoms for PCOS differ from person to person. It affects women of all ages mostly the age group of 14 – 38 years. Some of the common and initial symptoms are- delayed or no periods, weight gain, acne, mood swings, male pattern hair growth mostly on face, chest, abdomen and back (this condition is called hirsutism), hair loss from scalp (alopecia), anxiety, depression, low self-esteem. In later stages, when PCOS/PCOD gets out of control, women face the following health problems:
High blood pressure
Cancer in uterus
“People often think that PCOD interferes with pregnancy but that is not true because women and their bodies react differently to this problem and everybody does not go through infertility with PCOD, but women experience hirsutism (male pattern beard/hair), weight gain, regular/irregular periods, mood swings, etc,” adds Shah.
“Although I am not a doctor but as per my personal research, interaction with people going through the same problem and studies, PCOS is more critical, wherein more than 12 follicles are produced every month and infertility chances are slightly higher. In this case, testosterone levels are much higher, and women experience male pattern baldness besides all other symptoms,” she says.
Most times people use PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome) and PCOD (poly cystic ovarian diseases) interchangeably. “This is because both the conditions are associated with ovaries and hormones, and show similar symptoms,” she says. While people usually think that both PCOS and PCOD are same because the symptoms are similar and are caused due to hormonal imbalances, they are actually slightly different. A woman suffering from PCOD might not have the same problems as the one suffering from PCOS.
Sadly, there is no cure for PCOS/PCOD till date. “Doctors prescribe the same medicines as metformin and birth control pills repeatedly. That does help with reducing the symptoms, but the root cause of this disease remains there inside our bodies,” she says.
After being diagnosed with PCOD, Shah had to contend with various problems, physical as well as others. “I started gaining weight and my periods were irregular and eventually I started having this thick black hair on my chin, upper lips, sideburns, chest, and lower abdomen. Soon people started noticing my facial hair,” she shares.
Seeing a woman with facial hair is not a common sight and besides the curious looks, she also had to put up with the ridicule. “It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t but I have accepted it and am learning to live with it. Few people understand, mostly my friends and colleagues, and are empathetic. But most people make fun of it and are simply awful. Few even become judgmental and some even go as far as to giving me hair removal advice. Others tell me to visit a salon and act like a girl,” she says.
Recounting how her family too had difficulty accepting her condition, she shares: “There was this one time when I was sporting my beard and I visited my family, the moment they saw me, they were shocked and sad at the same time. Even though they don’t support my decision of keeping a beard, they pray and hope that I come out of this problem.”
Research shows experiencing the symptoms of PCOS, including excess hair growth, hair loss, acne, weight changes and fertility problems, can negatively affect mood, self–confidence, and body image. “I became emotionally very weak. I used to be depressed all the time and would cry myself to sleep and wake up crying. My social life and work got affected very badly. I used to get suicidal thoughts in my head and felt like there was no purpose for me. There was no one I could speak with and all this further led to deterioration in my physical appearance,” admits Shah.
Today Shah is a confident young woman who has not just accepted her condition but is a campaigner for Body Positivity. She believes the anti-depressants and the PCOD medication along with her determination to live a full life has brought in the change. “The love of my parents and unwavering understanding, encouragement and support of my friend Hari has also helped me tremendously. Even if they are a small number of people who support me, it gives me a ray of hope that we can change the mentality of our society and people around us. Our contribution may be little but it matters,” she says.
Hari, she further adds made a video of her which he uploaded on YouTube that has brought in a lot of positive feedback. “Many women nationally and internationally suffering with PCOS have approached me after that video. Not just that, even a few men have appreciated it and said it was an eye-opener,” she says. “It’s amazing how human beings flourish when we are allowed to simply be our authentic selves.” Far from hiding herself away, she now has a social media feed filled with new friends and followers. She speaks with evangelical zeal about her determination not only to succeed in life, but to take other people with her.
Her aim in having the talk for Navhind Times, she says, is to create awareness. “I want to reach out to parents whose daughters are suffering from the same disease and educate them. I want to reach out to the women/ girls of our country and tell them they are not alone, I am with them. I have seen women hiding PCOS as if it is some sin. I want them to come out and be vocal about it. It maybe a taboo but we can break it together.”
(If you would like to join the talk with Sabreena on Sunday, September 15, log on to navhindtimes.in/events and fill in the form. Last date to apply is September 9.)